Review: The Lion King, Lyceum

It took a long time for me to be convinced that going to see The Lion King at the Lyceum was worth it despite it being one of the longest-running shows in the West End and having finally made it there, I’m really not sure that it was worth it for me. Elton John’s music and Tim Rice’s lyrics work with Roger Allers and Irene Meechi’s book which takes the familiar plot and adds in several new scenes with a couple of notable changes (i.e. Rafiki becomes a female character) but the story is essentially the same: young lion Simba is robbed of his father and his throne by his wicked uncle Scar and only by learning about friendship and family and growing up and facing challenges, can he hope to return and claim what is his by birth.

It is often difficult to watch shows that are based on well-loved films, especially when you’re the one that loves the film in question, and so predictably it turned out here that I was disappointed. There is an odd tension between replicating familiar scenarios, as in the glorious opening scene which is stirringly rendered here and making its own mark on the material, Scar is re-envisioned as a camp villain stripping away any of the evil or menace that is associated with his character.

I’m not a fan of puppetry for the most part and this show is full of it. I find something almost cringe-worthy about people pretending to be animals that was made worse by the style of masks and costumes which leave so much of the ‘human’ still visible, it really isn’t my thing at all and so made it extremely difficult for me to enjoy much of the show. And though the visual aesthetic is at times impressive, I found it a little too overwhelming for the actors, very few of whom managed to establish a presence or deliver impressive performances, it all got kind of lost in the mix.

Musically, the over-reliance on ballads and the pop sensibility that means there’s rarely a sense of place to the score, and despite the big well-known numbers that pop up, the overall feel was of slowness and bland repetition which really surprised me. The singing was mostly proficient, only Gloria Onitiri’s Nala standing out for me and though it seems a bit mean to point it out, some of the children’s singing really wasn’t of a good enough standard, given how much they are asked to do.

Ultimately, it was hard to say that this show is worth it, especially given the prices that are being charged here: as a spectacle it disappointed but crucially, as a musical it seriously underwhelms. If you want my advice, find a friend with a huge widescreen TV, get a bag of Butterkist and re-watch the DVD.

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